This was my fourth cruise and my mother's second. My reasons for choosing Carnival Inspiration were the ship's recent renovation, the four day itinerary and the convenience of flying on Southwest from Chicago to Tampa.
As always, we flew down a night early and took a taxi to the Hyatt Tampa Downtown. The airport was about 15-20 minutes from the hotel and it cost us $37 for the taxi.
The Hyatt sells Starbuck's coffee along with some basic items for breakfast and lunch including fruit, cereal, bagels, sandwiches, etc. (Buy your water here; a regular bottle of water in your room is $5!) There is a full service restaurant and a small bar outside of the restaurant. The pool is located on the 5th floor of the hotel where there is a very nice sun deck and hot tub along with what appeared to be a well equipped workout room. Blue One Shuttle is used to transport guests to and from the airport but they are only available until 10:00 p.m. which is why we took a taxi when we arrived. The port is only about five minutes from the hotel but they do not offer complimentary shuttle service. We used Blue One which cost $6 for the two of us. You cannot walk to the port from the hotel.
We arrived at the Port of Tampa about 10:30, handed off our bags to the porter and were inside, checked in and waiting to board by 11:00. It took about 45 minutes to get on the ship and once on board, we headed to the Lido deck for our first foofy drink and lunch. Our cabin was not available until 1:30.
One of the first things I noticed about this ship was that the employees were really friendly! There is nothing I love more than friendly cruise ship employees and this ship has them by the boatload - no pun intended! From the first bartender to the destination shopping specialist, I truly enjoyed my interactions with these people. Our cabin steward was Candice from South Africa and she was excellent. She made sure that we were well taken care of, towel animals and all! Risa Barnes was our cruise director and believe everything you read about her - she is awesome! Felipe is Risa's assistant and was very entertaining. In the Carnivale dining room, we were lucky enough to have George the Greek (Opa!) as our Maitre'd. Our head waiter was Stephen from the Philippines and Fritz, his assistant. The last person we had a lot of interaction with was Darin, the shopping specialist. We went to his presentation on the stores of Cozumel, which was very informative. After making some purchases, he helped us with the Carnival 30 day guarantee forms. After the cruise, we ran into Darin in Tampa and he took 15 minutes out of his day off to talk to us about himself, the cruise, our past cruises, etc. I have never encountered friendliness on this level from cruise employees and it capped off a really good vacation.
The second thing I noticed is that the food is better than the last two Carnival ships I was on. I also thought the Lido buffet, the Brasserie, was laid out very well with the hot dogs and burgers at the back of the pool area and a juice bar. Inside the buffet, stations on either side of the entrance featured hot items. In the middle of the buffet were two salad bar stations and right behind this was the deli that also served as the omelet station for breakfast. Sandwiched between the salad bar stations is the 24 hour ice cream and on the other side, in front of the deli was potato chips, pickles, pickled carrots and veggies, fruit, etc. Off to the right, at the back of the restaurant is the pizza station. On either side of the salad stations are the dessert stations, and finally there were two coffee & juice stations at the front of the restaurant. There was something for everyone at any time of the day.
We had an ocean view cabin on the Upper Deck which was large enough for two with the beds laid out in an "L" shape. I love the new flat screen TV's as it frees up more space for your things. There was plenty of storage in the closets, although we did bring a shoe bag to hang over the bathroom door to hold all of our toiletries. The bathroom was shiny clean and was always spotless. I noticed the toilet was a little worn out so I guess they didn't change those out during the renovations.
What I was surprised at was the lack of cleanliness in the outdoor public areas. The decks were not that clean and there were always a lot of dirty tables whenever I was searching for a one. The Serenity deck was also a bit dirty and worn. The cushions on the lounge chairs were tattered with stuffing coming out of some of them. There were cigarette butts on the deck and dirty glasses and tables. Lastly, the public bathrooms were disgusting! I just don't understand why people think it is ok to leave a public space so dirty! With that being said, I don't think there are enough employees assigned to clean these areas. I do have to say that I feel sorry for those who are assigned to clean up after these people. It's truly frustrating to see the mess people leave behind.
My only other complaint about the ship was I kept getting lost! It was very hard to find our way around and I never did find a map of the ship. But being the optimist that I am, I probably didn't gain as much weight from all the wandering around that I did! We did manage to find our way to the observation decks at the front of the ship during sail away. This was a great place to take pictures of the sunset and a great place to check out the stars at night. When you go up to the miniature golf area, keep going all the way forward and you will find the observation deck. Go down one flight of stairs to the Verandah deck and go through the hallway of cabins leading to the front of the ship. There is another observation deck there which is just below the one in front of the mini golf.
Embarkation Day - We spent the day checking out the ship, eating lunch at the Lido, meeting our cabin steward, meeting up with our CC roll call, the obligatory muster drill and waiting for the highlight of the sailing; going under the bridge with inches to spare! After you leave Tampa, you sail through the bay for about two and a half hours until you reach this bridge that the ship barely fits under. (I never found out the name!) Once underneath, everyone cheers. I assume this symbolizes the start to our ocean sailing, or maybe, two and a half hours later, they are just liquored up and ready to party! Whatever the case, it was great fun to watch the approach and the "squeeze" under the bridge. From there, it was time to get ready for dinner in the Carnival dining room and then on to the Welcome Aboard show which was ok. The comedian was hilarious though! The layout of the theater is horrible though. The seats sit very low so you can't see that well over the chairs in front of you and there are poles scattered throughout the theater that you have to look around to see the stage. Unless you are down on the main level, there are very few good seats in the house.
Sea Day #1 - We went to the shopping seminar and then spent the rest of our morning lying out at Waterworks, which we loved! The Lido pool is small, so it's hard to get a chair there. The Serenity deck is even smaller and people laid out all day long there - you had to stalk the chairs to get one! But at Waterworks, which is one deck up from the Lido deck, we had no problem finding chairs. When it got too hot, we ran over to one of the large sprinklers and cooled ourselves off. The slides looked like a lot of fun but I never got to try them. There were just as many adults as there were kids in this park and I think everyone who was up there really enjoyed the space.
In the afternoon, we managed to get some space down on Serenity and over the course of a few hours, stalked our way to some chairs under umbrellas. It was so hot down there and with only hot tubs to go in, there really was no way to cool down. Carnival either needs to install a pool back there or turn one of the hot tubs into a cool tub! They also have an area that is like a cabana that could really benefit from the installation of some outdoor ceiling fans. The thing I did enjoy about the area was the music they piped in which was a cross between new age and spa music. It was very relaxing and you could also hear it when you sat outside at the Lido buffet seating. In the evening, we went to see the show Shout. We really enjoyed the show and it was much better than the welcome show.
Since this evening was "cruise elegant" we opted to eat dinner in the buffet. Carnival calls it their casual dining option and makes it look fancy in pictures, but really, it's just a limited buffet. It was Caribbean Cuisine night but I ended up with turkey and salad. Dessert was ice cream and a piece of chocolate cake. It's slim pickings because everyone else is eating surf and turf but for those of us who opted not to dress up, it really wasn't a big deal. I'd say there were about 20 of us in the buffet, so I understand why they wouldn't set out a big spread.
Cozumel - We docked at Punta Langosta which is a nice set up for the cruise ships. The area has a two level mall where you can shop, catch a taxi or head down to the main street which takes you to the downtown area. If you are able, you can easily walk the downtown area and back to the ship with plenty of time to spare. Be careful of the jewelry stores here at Punta Langosta. They were trying to sell blue topaz as aquamarine. Knowing what we know of aquamarine, we quickly left those stores behind. There are some good stores for souvenirs though.
We opted to spend the day shopping and sightseeing on our own. We ate lunch at Palmeras, which is an open air restaurant and is recommend by Carnival. The food was very good and cost $40 for chips and pico de gallo, two chicken taco dinners and two large margaritas plus tip. As we shopped our way through Cozumel, I made two stops at Fat Tuesdays for some very large Banana Banshees. Yum! We also grabbed a horse and carriage for $40 and we were taken down to the public beach and back through downtown Cozumel. The driver then took us through the residential area and pointed out houses and offered some tidbits about the area's residents. He also took us to an old church where we were able to get out and take pictures. After that, it was back to Punta Langosta where we did a little more shopping and went to Senor Frogs. A yard of a green froggy drink, a yard of strawberry margarita, some balloon hats, a shot of Sex on the Beach and we were partying.
After Senor Frogs, we stumbled back to the ship and hit our cabin where I promptly fell asleep for the next 14 hours! Mom went up on deck for the sail away and as we were pulling away, some people were running to catch the ship. The ship pulled back in for the group and then we were on our way. We found out later that four others weren't so lucky and never made it back to the ship. Last I heard, two of them ended up on Imagination, which was in port with us, and were headed to Miami.
Sea Day #2 - We spent the morning hours back up on the Waterworks deck, the afternoon checking out the last day sales in the on-board stores and enrolling our Cozumel purchases in Carnival's guarantee program. We also did the galley tour which was interesting to see how they keep up with us hungry cruisers. The evening was spent with Mom winning $20 in the casino on a quarter slot machine and me breaking even on a penny machine. Dinner was back in the Carnivale dining room with a yummy Baked Alaska for dessert. Then it was off to pack our suitcases and set them outside our door for the luggage pick up.
Disembarkation - We waited in the buffet until our number was called and made our way off the ship about 9:30-10:00. We found our luggage right away and made it through customs all in a matter of about 15 minutes! This was by far the easiest disembarkation I have ever been through. Not realizing how easy it was going to be, I had booked us on a late afternoon flight which meant we had a few hours to kill before we had to be at the airport. We were able to leave our luggage at the port authority office and at the same time, arranged for Blue One shuttle to take us to the airport at a discounted rate - it was $9 per person. We also bought discounted tickets to the aquarium, which is across the street from the port office. The aquarium is small which meant we made it through the exhibits in about an hour. From there, we wandered around Channelside which is mostly restaurants. We lunched at Hooters and were on our way to the airport by 12:30. It took about 15 minutes to get to the airport from the port area.
Some final thoughts – I did not use the spa on this cruise, so I can’t comment on this area of the ship.
There was a Florida radio show on board that was broadcasting from Margaritaville while we were in Cozumel. They brought a huge following and they were very loud and sometimes rude. The ship’s employees kept apologizing for their behavior and except for not being able to carry on a normal conversation at dinner, they really didn’t affect our trip.
There were about 150 kids on board although we hardly noticed them. Interestingly enough, they hung out more at the Lido pool than at Waterworks. Even more interesting, most of them were better behaved than the radio show’s group!
We tried the sushi bar which was really good. I never ordered anything at the coffee bar except a bottle of water, so I can’t comment on the specialty coffee.
We really like sailing with Carnival as they continue to provide the type of vacation and service that my family and I have come to expect and enjoy. Are there things that can be improved upon? Of course! Will it stop me from cruising with Carnival? Never! I always say a cruise is what YOU make of it. If I’m going to worry about the small stuff, I might as well stay home and go to work!